Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

May 2018

The Features Trap

Asking for features but wanting better methods

For a number of years, SharePoint had been a part of the toolkit for project teams. Our experience in working with these teams has given a few lessons towards what is understood about features, and what isn’t undertood about behaviors. And yet, across more than a decade, there seems to have been little movement towards reconciling these. Features — as it relates to what teams understand about their tools — can very much be a trap instead of a help.

Our work with teams centers on helping them understand better what they want to do, and what about the software packages they might perfer helps them to get there. To that end, we spend a bit more time getting to know teams, their challenges, and the opportunities they’d like to feature, rather than getting to know every nook and wrinkle of the software tools. This seems a bit anthetical towards the signaling certification, CPE credits, licensing, and even “we want to do it like them” ethos of knowledge work; yet, this has been found to give the best return on teaching, not just return on investment.

Yet, there’s a place in each of those conversations where the topic turns to features. And it is here where its heard how some one is using this thing differently (or the “let me pull up this site and show you what I mean”). What’s being asked for is the method. The language being used is all about features.

The challenge for Avanceé is to clearly point our where these expectations might lie and make a clear distinction between the features which enable what looks like a pleasing method, and the behaviors which backend that method into profitable processes. This means if we are talking about reporting, and your focus is on making Excel a better used tool, that we will be asking questions about what you do with reports, what kinds of decisions do those reports help you make, and what about other tools and behaviors which get to those decision points faster or richer might have been missed. It might mean wanting automated processes, but taking a detailed look at communication practices between teams/team members, and what the entrance of automation might add or take away.

The question of any tools is rarely about the features it offers; its more about methods of work — what it does and doesn’t facilitate. To steer clear of the features trap grants the ability to concentrate on the better part of the process equation. That better part, enables your best parts.